Judge Espinosa continued:
In my view, it was necessary for defendant to admit to circumstances that were manifestly inappropriate to provide an adequate factual basis for his guilty plea. Although the majority has cited circumstances derived from statements made by witnesses who have since recanted, none of these circumstances were acknowledged by defendant. Without defendant’s admission that such circumstances were present, his factual basis is no more adequate than the cases noted by the Supreme Court that failed to support a conviction.
Finally, I address the appropriate standard of review. As the majority acknowledges, “the standard of review of a trial court’s denial of a motion to vacate a guilty plea for lack of an adequate factual basis is de novo.” State v. Tate, 220 N.J. 383, 403-04 (2015). But the majority also posits that, because defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea was based upon both an argument that his factual basis was inadequate and that a Slater analysis warranted granting his motion, the de novo review of the factual basis for his guilty plea must give way to a Slater analysis. The support for this position is a single word in a sentence in Tate that is taken out of context, “when the issue is solely whether an adequate factual basis supports a guilty plea, a Slater analysis is unnecessary.” Id. at 404 (emphasis added).
A review of the opinion reveals that, when a defendant contends his guilty plea lacks a sufficient factual basis, the Court clearly did not intend to limit appellate review to a Slater analysis merely because other arguments were raised. The Court noted the distinction between the review of cases in which the plea is supported by an adequate factual basis and those in which it is not. As to the latter case, we exercise a de novo review of that issue, which has dispositive effect. As the Court stated, “in short, if a factual basis has not been given to support a guilty plea, the analysis ends and the plea must be vacated.” Ibid.
Judge Espinosa’s critique of the appellate panel majority decision gives the impression that the majority was stretching to find support for the denial of the defendant’s motion. Kudos to Judge Espinosa, a former prosecutor, for taking a more objective approach.